Beware of Pundits Who Would have Fed Kurds to the Islamists

by Robert Sklaroff and Sherkoh Abbas

Recalling sequels of the movie Jaws, it remains unsafe for Kurds to wade freely into the polluted waters of Middle East politics despite the recommitment by President Donald Trump to maintain a military presence in Syria and the subsequent defeat of the Islamic State.

What was unmasked in the interim must unnerve perceptive readers, for neo-isolationists abound in both political parties. Ironically, while Kurds suffered in purgatory, this chronology unmasked defeatist pundits who must now be outed lest they undermine an unabashedly fruitful process.

Trump Disrupts Precipitously

Kurds felt betrayed when the Administration initially announced the decision to effect the “quick” withdrawal had been conveyed to “America’s partners in northeast Syria, namely the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG),” for this portended forced alteration of regional demographics and revival of the Islamic State’s terrorism. And few were assuaged when — in response to Brian Kilmeade’s direct question as to whether Turkey President Erdogan had provided any reassurance that the Kurds wouldn’t be annihilated — spokesperson Mercedes Schlapp [listen @ 5:30] said only that Trump had sent him “a very strong message.” Through it all, Christians remained at-risk of extinction in the land where Christmas began.

As a result, told they would somehow benefit from being abandoned, distressed Syrian Kurds felt forced to choose between trying to carve-out an independent nation vs. negotiating a federation with Damascus (much as Erbil cautiously relates with Baghdad). Jettisoning the aspiration of reestablishing Kurdistan was framed as a desirable mindset, for seeking the ideal was not to preclude achieving the good.

Also, as a result, before the Kurds and others including the French had defeated the Islamic State, regional countries maneuvered for advantage, rushing to fill the vacuum. After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected the  resignation  of Javad Zarif as Foreign Minister following the visit to Tehran of President Bashar-al-Assad, Zarif’s influence was apparently strengthened. After Trump signed legislation blocking transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned an April visit to Moscow to counter America. Shivering outside are Americans.

Trump’s withdrawal announcement — based on intent to uphold a campaign promise literally — prompted a sober reassessment of traumatic military realities, for “tens of thousands” of Islamic State terrorists remain in Syria and Iraq; the Pentagon has warned the Islamic State could reclaim land within a year without military pressure; a pullout would carry catastrophic humanitarian consequences; and Iran’s bellicosity is growing. Inescapable was the emerging consensus that Syrian Kurdistan benefits American and Israeli security and controlling the Syrian-Turkish border (“Rojava”) matters for Israel .

“History,” which will forever recall that Jimmy Carter lost Iran, was poised to suggest “Trump” as the answer to the question, “Who lost Syria?”

Willy Loman: “Attention must be paid” to the Kurds.

Trump-supporters searched for a silver-lining without stretching credulity and gleeful never-Trumpers from across the political spectrum trashed his substance and/or style.

We chimed-in, discussing why Kurdistan is a linchpin to America’s Middle East Policy; how any Syrian withdrawal must protect Syrian withdrawal must protect the Kurds; how to resolve the Turkish-Kurdish standoff, and how to apply a flexible model for a reconstructed Middle East. Indeed, that latter piece presaged Trump’s historic decision to acknowledge intent to redraw Syria’s borders, for recognizing Israeli control over the Golan Heights for more than a half-century segues into recognizing Kurdish roots in their homeland for three millennia.

Also prescient was introduction of two Senate Amendments, one that generically declared the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda remained threats to the US and the other that explicitly recognized the necessity to protect the Kurds. Unfortunately, adoption of the latter, proposed during a brief-but-eloquent floor speech by Sen. John Kennedy (R., Louisiana), was blocked by the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho), due to reticence to anger the Turks.

Those who doubt that America can and must “keep the peace” (without having to engage in nation-building) should ponder the impact of neo-isolationists having clamored for Cold Warriors to conjure an “exit strategy” when the U.S. established bases in Germany and South Korea. To the contrary, an “exit strategy” was successfully implemented from Trump’s flawed “exit strategy.”

That’s why, just as is the case in most every political arena, vigilance over the ambient discourse cannot be relaxed. Liberal pacifists and conservative xenophobes —  even as they transiently appear to have gone underground — may again fine-tune transparent obstruction to Trump by manifesting unjustified intimidation by America’s regional adversaries, who are busy regrouping.

Critics of the US remaining in Syria — many of whom channel their perennial advocacy for American abandonment of the Middle East — claim a divided-America has war-fatigue and cannot complete the intricate transactions needed to create operational coalitions. They forget that this plays into Trump’s deal-making wheelhouse, evidenced by the frenzied travel of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton around the Middle East, culminating in the anti-Iran Warsaw Conference. They forget that this triad has harbored the ambit to challenge such assumptions, at-home and abroad.

Characteristically, politically polarized polemicists who praised the potential American withdrawal failed to suggest how to defeat Islamists disappearing into the desert, instead invoking reductio ad absurdum postures that transparently trashed Trump. They ignored the need to deny Tehran, Ankara, Moscow and Damascus a Syrian victory. They ignored the need to block Iran from creating a Shia-Crescent land-bridge to the Mediterranean and from assuming control over Syria’s energy resources. They ignored the need to block Islamists and Turkey’s allies (including elements of the Free Syrian Army) from demographically and ethnically cleansing the Kurd-controlled safe-zone in north and northeastern Syria (as occurred in Afrin).

Thus, we have freeze-dried their doctrinaire postures before they also conveniently disappear into the Internet. We must “out” those self-appointed “experts” who acquiesced to jettisoning the Kurds — and America’s moral reputation for supporting valiant allies — into oblivion.

Ecstatic Democrats Pounce

Left-wingers such as Former Secretary of State John Kerry conveyed sudden admiration for the Kurds and predictable lamentation were they left unprotected. Other liberals attacked the precipitous nature of Trump’s announcement (even as many quietly applauded his newfound pacifism). This was countered by Rep. Brendan Boyle (PA – D), who voiced a pocket of realism reminiscent of the robust postures of Sen. Henry Jackson (WA – D); he complained Trump seemingly had ignored the long-term potency of the war against Western Civilization.

Col. Douglas MacGregor even claimed the withdrawal was “a brilliant strategy and a clever move” because “We had to get out of Northern Syria quickly because there were tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers poised to attack the Kurds.” He mused, “The notion that Putin has won something is absurd” because Putin supposedly would have to choose between supporting Turkey vs. Iran. His lamentation that Americans “don’t win wars anymore” was juxtaposed by argument that leaving Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan is key to the security of the United States.

He conveniently forgot that [1]—America shouldn’t be bullied by Turkey, and Russia shouldn’t be empowered in the process; and [2]—It’s preferable to fight overseas, for it’s undesirable to allow Islamists to accrue a land-base that would enhance their ability to wreak havoc upon the region and globally. Absurd was any suggestion a resurgent Islamic State would be easily wiped-out, for they would be congregated in a defined area; in contradistinction, note how difficult it was to wrest control of the Jihadis’ last stronghold.

These views alarmed America’s global/regional allies, including Kurds, Israelis, and Arabs; they advocated resolute opposition to Islamism, no matter how remain. This may explain why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has frequently visited Russian President Putin, for reminding him of Islamist Chechens threatening domestic tranquility may forestall his providing opportunistic military backing to their colleagues abroad.

Conflicted Republicans Agonize

Right-wingers advanced a philosophical non-interference posture, among them the Reason Foundation, the Cato Institute and The Federalistwon’t protect America. Others oxymoronically suggested that withdrawal from Syria somehow would promote its liberation, overlooking the potential for empowered Kurds to thwart Iranian expansion via this puppet-state.

Neo-conservatives joined the blame-game, trumpeting the view that the 2012 ”Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq” legislation passed in the wake of 9-11 has been stretched to encompass Syria.

The claim that America should not prioritize dealings with substate actors such as Kurdistan was conveyed in essays (and confirmed orally) by former presidential antiterrorism adviser and current radio personality Sebastian Gorka, who twice claimed conversationally (in 2017 and 2018) that it remains premature to side with the Kurds. Evolving perhaps, he has subsequently observed that the Trump-Doctrine of Strategic-Realism mandates that America will reliably help friends (particularly Sunnis) who do not need nation-building, and he has more recently recognized that the “War Against ISIS isn’t over yet.”

He need not fret. Trump covets coalitions whose members don’t passively depend upon America and  would presumably support the Kurds’ unique potency and reliability against Islamists. This circumstance contrasts with America’s misappropriation (assisted by Turkey) to train the Free Syrian Army, most of whom are now Islamists who implement Erdo?an’s desire to fight Kurds.

Sebastian Gorka, who is no longer a FoxNews contributor, should worry that Turkey demanded that Google remove its “Kurdistan” mapSpain is modernizing Venezuelan Tanks in violation of E.U. Sanctions. America must police worldwide without embracing globalism, for no one else does.

Overall,  Trump’s politically-risky troop-withdrawal plan triggered a populist schism, for the Republican base is traditionally more supportive of a muscular foreign policy than content with ignoring potential hot-spots, particularly in this volatile neighborhood. This is how the intramural debate played-out between neo-isolationists and neo-conservatives:

Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan risk[ed] a rift between the president and his Jacksonian supporters [contrasting with the party’s globalist “Jeffersonian” wing] and provide[d] a way for some in the GOP to break with the president without losing their own populist credentials. The betrayal of the Kurds, the benefits to Iran of American withdrawal, the tilt toward an Islamist and anti-Israel Turkey, and the purrs of satisfaction emanating from the Kremlin were all bitter pills for Jacksonians to swallow.

Of the two wings of the GOP[’s] populist movement, the Jacksonians are the stronger and, from a political standpoint, the more essential. The GOP base is more hawkish than isolationist, and from jihadist terrorism to Russian and Chinese revisionism, today’s world is full of threats that alarm Jacksonian populists and lead them to support a strong military and a forward-leaning foreign policy. Neoconservatives tried and failed to rally GOP foreign-policy hawks against Donald Trump [until now]. Should Jacksonians turn against him, they are likely to pose a much more formidable threat.

Apparently, Trump’s pull-out stymied America’s pro-Israel groups and individuals, observing that well-referenced pro-Trump crusaders such as Pamela Geller withheld critique. This dynamic was dramatized by customarily-brilliant Caroline Glick, who conjured a tortured set of “positive” facets of withdrawal, forgetting that all she had posited could be achieved without the withdrawal. {It is possible that Glick was quietly self-aware of her lapse in critical thinking ability when attempting to find any justification for the Syrian withdrawal; this may, in turn, have prompted her to seek a new career as a politician with Israel’s “New Right” party, thereby having to maintain responsibility solely to “self” when engaging in punditry.}

Countering such concerns and consistent with our plan is Dr. Walid Phares’ Plan for Northern Syria” (introduced on Al Arabiya  that would separate Turkey and Syria by empowering a third-party multinational force — perhaps under the United Nations (Chapter 7) — to regulate a security zone (including parts of both countries), thereby supplanting any Turkish invasion by Turkish President Erdo?an.

A Reasonable Battle-Plan

Erdo?an wants to establish a safe-zone in northeastern Syria ahead of his planned offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) who control the region; Ankara wants to clear them by falsely claiming they are affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) communist terrorist group. Even the New York Times recognized  that America must ensure any safe-zone is guaranteed by international forces and not by Turkey.

Cogent pundits such as Joel Pollak and storied organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have nevertheless strained to spin a positive perspective by recognizing America couldn’t have achieved this major albeit incomplete success (with minuscule casualties) absent the Kurds.  Fortunately, an alarmed Sen. Mitt Romney (Ut, R.) stressed the need to protect allies including the Kurds and were highly critical of Trump’s potential withdrawal.

They advocate reducing the influence of groups linked to Assad/PKK and increasing the influence of groups aspiring to implement a Western-style representative-democracy. Just as occurred in Iraqi Kurdistan in September 2017, Syrian Kurds must be empowered to hold an election that will determine their fate; groups such as Kurdnas should be included in this process.

Tension has not appreciably abated.

Just as politicos and politicians are finally being discredited for pushing the Russian Hoax, this meta-analysis of recent Syrian punditry has called-out commentators who would have abandoned the Kurds, the Kurds who remain busy both holding at least 2000 suspected Islamist terrorists and protecting minorities such as the Yazidis.

This is why we feel protecting the Kurds is inspirational when formulating American foreign policy; America can work with Israel in Syria without putting more boots on the ground.


Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist. Sherkoh Abbas is president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. The authors are grateful for input provided by Jerry Gordon (senior editor of the New English Review).




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